As a new semester gets underway at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville faces a continued challenge of retaining students after graduation.
In 2015, only one-third of undergraduate business students stayed in Knoxville after graduation, and only 18 percent of UT’s MBA graduates stuck around, according to UT’s Center for Career Development.
While students say it’s tough to find white collar opportunities near Knoxville, local business officials say the market is growing, and riper than ever.
Memphis native Stephen Fly received his MBA from UT’s Haslam School of Business in December. He wanted to stay in Knoxville, but the job opportunities didn’t come.
"I don't think I was disillusioned that I would get to stay in the region. I really didn't expect it,” he said. "They were looking for very few people because the scale of their operations were much more service and blue collar oriented."
But it's the white collar jobs many graduates are looking for.
"There probably are not enough employers and opportunities to absorb all of our UT grads in the majors or industries that they've prepared for,” said Stephanie Kit, director of the UT Center for Career Development.
Economic development officials say that is changing.
Doug Lawyer, vice president of economic development for the Knoxville Chamber, said the city announced a total of 4,000 new jobs in the past year.
"We've got a really good mix right now of corporate headquarter expansions with Team Health and Regal Cinemas expanding their operations here. As well as bringing in manufacturing positions that require not only manufacturing jobs, but white collar management positions as well,” he said.
Regal's move from Halls to South Knoxville is expected to bring an extra 300 corporate jobs.
Lawyer wants to ensure business students are aware of all the companies expanding to East Tennessee.
"Every college town like a Knoxville has these same issues. We all want to retain the best and brightest here once they graduate,” Lawyer said.
But, he added, "We're better prepared now than we've ever been."
Most of UT’s business students do find jobs shortly after graduation. About 85 percent of Haslam College of Business students have a job placement within six months of graduating.
For many though, like Fly, that job may be out of state. He is now employed in Michigan.
"It's almost easier to start off somewhere that's a better fit for yourself, something you'll do well at, and then come back to the region,” he said.
(© 2016 WBIR)